adventure


For those of you who do not have palm trees on your property with which you have to deal, I am a bit jealous. We happen to have two. One is roughly a sixty footer that has been growing for perhaps near as long as our 1906 house is old. It stands majestically and relatively out of the way in the northwest corner of the backyard. The other comes in somewhere upwards of forty feet and it is literally and maddeningly situated smack dab in the middle of the backyard, about ten feet back from the kitchen windows.

I would estimate that in the course of the near thirteen years that tree and I have been acquainted, I have spent a cumulative total of two hours and thirty-six minutes just staring in WTF-style amazement at it wondering which one of the previous owners had the opportunity to uproot the palm tree in its infancy some half-century ago, but instead decided it would be a dang good idea to allow it to grow in pretty much the most obtrusive possible place that one could allow one to grow. Many’s the time I’ve looked out the kitchen windows and admired how much its trunk has all the view-blocking beauty of a utility pole or smokestack, and doubly so how its position subsequently limits any landscaping opportunities. Not coincidentally, many’s the time I’ve dreamed about going back in time and whacking that person in the shoulder with a frond for being such an idiot.

Speaking of fronds, that’s why I’m over-telling this story today. With the winds this past week, comes the trees’ inevitable shedding of its dead. The sixty-footer did so last week, dropping twenty-nine fronds heavily but mostly harmlessly onto the north sideyard. I came home last night to find the forty-footer had shrugged off twenty-seven. Why is it I know the exact number? Because I chop up each and every one — the better to pack them into the green bin and get them the hell outta my sight.

It wasn’t always like that. For our first few years together, the fronds would fall (I remember one bunch totaling 60 that practically scared the poop outta me when I was napping in the hammock and heard it break off in mass with a ridiculous shhhhnraaack! and then crash with a ground-shaking shhhhwhump to earth) and I would go about tying them up in bundles of 10 or so, lugging them all down to the curb and then praying and hoping that my bulky item pickup request with the sanitation department would get fulfilled — which it sometimes wouldn’t, forcing me to make another request, and the fronds would then sit there at the curb for another week. Maybe two.

I’d guess it was finally around 2008 or so that I decided to cut out the middleman, and instead purchased a pair of heavy duty shears, wherein after each frond fall I would cut up each one of the sometimes seven- to eight-foot tall beasts into three parts (as you can see in the accompanying timelapse of me attacking the forty-footers twenty-seven this morning): first separating the fan from the shaft, then the shaft from the tail. The process makes for a pretty good workout, especially considering that until chopping up the sixty-footer’s offering last Sunday, I was being a dumbhead in making the process aaaaaaall the more laborious by using the shears to forcefully make a full cut between the shaft and the tail.

Here’s the thing, decapitating the fan is a piece o’ cake. The shaft is very thin at the base of the fan and all it takes is a literal snip to make that separation. Down at the other end is a different matter. The shaft has not only widened out but it’s way thicker and denser too, thus making a full cut through that section took a lot of effort and time. It takes force, it takes position, it takes leverage, and then some more force, responsitioning and leverage. Factor in the inevitable dulling of the shears’ blades and it’s not a party. Not only that, but as a bonus on occasion, in the course of attempting that arduous cut– many of the fronds are lined with sharp little thorny spikes –the shaft would snap against my neck or head, cutting me. I sooooo rejoiced at the glory of life whenever that magic would happen. Hallelujah.

Apologies to Steinbeck for the “Of Mice and Men” reference, but for as much as I like to think I’m George, I can be such a total Lennie.” For whatever reason last Sunday, after cutting off the first fan I went to work at the other end, and it was only after roughly ten years of doing it the hard way of huffing and puffing and groaning trying to cut aaaaaall the way through that a light bulb went off and a voice said “Relaaaaax you numbskull. Don’t force it. Instead just cut into one side enough to score the surface and then bend it away from you!” And I was all, “Wha…?” And the voice was all “Just trust me. Truuuuuuust me.” So I said “OK,” and I scored the surface and then bent the shaft down and away and dang if the frond didn’t let out a satisfying kraaack! and part from the tail. Not fully, but after that making the remaining separation was an effortless snip with the shears on par with that involved at the other end.

I rejoiced in my ten-year-late discovery and upon finishing the job in record time came running in to share the news of my exciting discovery with my beloved Susan. In the end, let’s just say she looked at me very much the way a parent might look troubled upon a child who might be showing themselves for the first time (or fiftieth) to be perhaps a peck short of a bushel. In fact, I’ll it’d be a safe bet you’re looking at your screen in much the same way. I understand. Go ahead and tell me about the rabbits then, huh? Can ya? Tell me all about the rabbits!

Anyway. There is much joy here in Frondville on this day. Next year when the palms drop their next batches upon the ground I won’t be jumping with joy at the task at hand, but at least I’ll be accomplishing it more efficiently. Hallelujah!

Note: I warn you ahead of time this post may change the way you feel about me as a potentially normal human being. I’d advise not dwelling on it too much and just chalking it up to “Oh that Will… the lengths he’ll go to about something so trivial — and then write about it!” But if you want to overthink my sanity or lack thereof, that’s OK.

Whilst most of my communication is done via fingertips and a keyboard, my job has me writing violation notices in triplicate on an almost daily basis, and as such I’m always searching for a gooooood ballpoint pen to provide whatever boost to my crappy penmanship. My journey has led me to find two of my favorites. The Staples 1.0  and the Paper Mate Profile 1.4. Both of these instruments are gloriously smooth. In fact the latter claims to be the “World’s Smoothest Pen.” I am unable to refute that trademarked boast, but I don’t agree with it, I think the Staples 1.0 edges it out.

Trouble is the pen containers themselves that encase their ink cartridges are relatively bulky –additionally so with the inclusion of rubber grips — and as a result, carrying the requisite two (“always have a back-up!”) in my uniform shirt pocket while on duty is not an option.

Enter Pen No. 3. The Bic Clic Stic, the very model of compact and slender efficiency, two fit in my pocket like they were custom built for it. See how it and the Staples 1.0 compare, below:

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The only problem is the Clic Stic does not write to my satisfaction. Not that it’s bad, it’s perfectly acceptable. But in the environment within which I scribe, i.e., usually while on my feet outdoors holding a ticket book at somewhat of an awkward angle while trying to write information legibly in very small areas on a slightly unstable surface, it’s just does not feel as comfortable as either the Staples or Paper Mate.

With an acceptance of form over function, I made do with the Clic Stic because of its overall design until it dawned on me a few weeks ago, that I might be able to do a simple hack involving the taking of the ink cartridge out of the Staples and/or Paper Mate and swapping it for the one that comes standard with the Clic Stic.

Of course, when that dawning occurred I was down to my last Staples 1.0 and upon removal of the pens’ respective guts I found the Staples ink cartridge was about a quarter-inch longer than the Bic’s. Since an irreversible trim would be in order with no guarantee of success, I wasn’t about to risk sacrificing it without some back-ups on hand.

And that brought me to a local Staples last weekend, where I spent 10 minutes wasting my time scouring their huuuuuge selection of pens only to find that particularly store on that particular day didn’t have a single Staples 1.0 in stock. Much grousing ensued and led to me taking a box of Paper Mates to the register. When the cashier asked me if I’d been able to find everything I wanted, I curtly told her absolutely not. When her bored looked turned to one of mild surprise I insisted she not worry about it because the last thing I wanted to do was waste more time talking about it. After all, a pen’s a pen, right? Wrong.

Next I went to Staples.com and found a box of a dozen of them was only going to cost $5.29 — but get this: the only shipping involved a whoppingly excessive $9.95 charge. Much WTFing ensued until I discovered that Staples offers free delivery to its stores for customer pick-up, so I selected that option and a couple days later after being notified via email that my order was delivered, detoured on my way home to pick it up. I was humorously not surprised to find my box of pens — roughly 5″ x 3″ x 1″– had been shipped in a box that was easily 18″ x 12″ x 4″. Ironically, Staples has apparently never heard of padded envelopes, which they sell.

Long story short, I sat down yesterday with six of the Clic Stics and six of the Staples 1.0s, and about six minutes later, having successfully completed the final pen hack I now had the best of both worlds where form equaled function: a half-dozen fully operational Clic Stics holding their freshly trimmed and installed supersmooth Staples ink cartridges. And there was much rejoicing.

 

This morning we made it two successful skunk meetups in a row. Emerging from yesterday’s way-too-close encounter while walking Ranger was a miracle. This morning’s jaw-dropper of a stand off was something even more glorious: proof that Ranger has perhaps finally learned after at least three previous backyard skunkings that those “funny looking cats” (and the subsequent unceremonious deskunking baths involving hydrogen peroxide, baking powder and dish soap that follow) are to be avoided at all costs.

Awake early but way too lazy to go for a walk, I instead let Ranger out in the backyard to do her thang — but not before first conducting the obligatory flashlight enhanced patrol of the area to make sure there were no critters out and about.

Once I’d cleared it, out went Ranger who promptly found a patch of dirt and laid down upon it, looking at me with a forlorn expression. This is not her normal behavior, which is to do her own urgent patrol, and then after much back-and-forthing in the way-back part of the yard find a spot to pee and then another to poop. This self-imposed “I’m just gonna lay down here until I die or Momma comes home” exile is how she acts in protest to Susan (who’s on a weekender to visit old friends and her mom) not being here.

Sigh.

I tried to encourage Ranger to “go peepee!” but she was having none of it so I adjourned inside to make coffee, freshen the water and kibble bowls and advise the imploring cats gathered in the kitchen that breakfast wouldn’t be for awhile yet.

Roughly five minutes later (and in hindsight pleeeeenty of time for any number of creature — rat, squirrel, opossum, raccoon or coyote — to breach the backyard while seated with my cuppa joe in the kitchen, I saw Ranger was no longer prone outside, but was instead upright and facing north with interest. Simultaneously, a couple cats hopped up into the backyard facing windows I’d opened and were staring intently in the direction of the tortoise hutch. So I went outside to see whatever the object of their collective attention was.

My eyes went wide. It was a skunk. About the same size as the one yesterday. Standing atop the short retaining wall beside the hutch, stock still, facing in Ranger’s direction about 20 feet away with tail straight up.

This would typically be when I would yell out a blood-curdling “Noooooo!” and Ranger would ignore that go all territorial and charge, forcing the skunk to execute a 180-degree turn of doom and release its appropriate and terribly effective counter measures. Past episodes Ranger’s been blasted in the chest and the side of the head. She even took a direct hit in the mouth and eyes on one occasion. That one was particularly horrible with her spastically rolling around on the ground, foaming at the mouth and eating dirt like she’d gone instantly Cujo-level rabid. Poor girl.

And after each of those times while scrubbing her down Susan and I would question when or if she’d ever learn.

That question was answered this morning. Not only did she just stand there showing completely no sign of charging, but when I called her, she headed to me immediately and followed along while I hustled us to the back door and back inside the safety of kitchen. Even when the skunk went frantically mobile and started to probe the north fence for an exit, Ranger didn’t waiver.

Inside I hugged her and praised her for five full minutes, before going back outside to ensure the skunk had gone. Then I came back and hugged her some more.

 

 

Miracles DO Happen: On this morning’s walk with Ranger I got an earlier and darker start than usual (owing to Susan being on a weekend trip to Reno to explore her punk rawk past). So we detoured on the back stretch of the walk and came up a block we normally don’t traverse. A few hundred feet in I heard a sharp and short hiss from the curb and I figured we’d passed a cat perturbed by our passing presence.

I couldn’t’ve been more wrong. Looking to my left I found myself realizing that Ranger — for the first time in her life — had chosen to ignore what was a mature skunk standing planted and unmoving less than four feet away from us. Our dog’s entirely uncharacteristic behavior and reaction (she’s been skunked in the backyard at least three times and has showed no signs that she wouldn’t get herself bombed a fourth time given the opportunity) was really valuable given the skunk had its tail in the fully locked-and-loaded position.

The miracle is that I was looking into its eyes and not upon its backside. For whatever reason, probably because Ranger elected not to lunge at it (another miracle — GOOD GIRL!!!), the skunk opted out of nailing us. Despite our arm’s length proximity it deemed us not a threat warranting what coulda/woulda/shoulda been a complete and direct and all enveloping hit. By all rights and laws of urban wildlife, Ranger and I should really be stinking up the place right now.

Suffice it to say I wasted no time giving ground and moving me and Ranger out of range and then simultaneously thanked the skunk and congratulated Ranger for their combined restraint.

What a wonder-full way to start the day.

buster0828I thought we’d lost her yesterday: Buster, our Russian tortoise. Lately on weekends I’ve been taking her out of the self-contained hutch we built in 2007 and letting her have what we call the “pumpkin patch,” a roughly 10′ x 4′ section of the backyard normally reserved during this time of year for any would-be jack o’ lanterns I attempt to grow.

With its perimeter built up with river rocks and bricks, the patch has proven to contain Buster pretty well, thanks to me paying close attention to the weakest exit points that she inevitably and incessantly will exploit and then strengthening them in some manner… maybe with a repositioned river rock or some stakes driven into the dirt that she can’t defeat.

At dusk last night, when it came time to move her back from the patch into her hutch, she was gone. I asked Susan if she’d returned her, and she said no. I wondered if perhaps one of our kitchen renovation workers, not knowing the exploratory nature of tortoises had seen Buster trying to escape and helped her over the barrier figuring “How far can a tortoise go?” That’s a typical rhetorical people ask themselves and the answer is “Far enough that you may never see them again.”

I’m serious. They can get themselves under some foliage, dig down into the soft earth and even though they’re theoretically under your nose, they’re just as completely GONE as if they’d managed to crawl all the way to Kern County.

My first thought was one of relief because I was pretty sure she was at least somewhere in the backyard as there weren’t any readily accessible escape routes out of it. But compounding matters and fears, said workers had left the backyard gate nearest the patch open during their time here, meaning that if Buster either escaped on her own or was assisted, she was only about 15 feet and one low step away from getting beyond the backyard into the north side yard, with its thick growth offering plenty of places to hunker down over night before setting out for Kern County in the morning.

So time was pretty much of the essence, and with the daylight failing Susan and I got busy. I stuck to the backyard and north side of the house while Susan went all the way down to the street and down the block.

You think that’s silly? Then check out my account below of an escape she made back in 2004. The use of “Miracle” in the headline is NOT an exaggeration.

Long story cut short: There was much rejoicing and relief when I found Buster still in the backyard, instead of going out the open gate she made a left and crawled under the potting table among a half-dozen or so brown widow spiders, wedging herself against the outside of the kitchen wall.

Maybe she was interested in the renovation’s progress.

Halloween 2013

For the number of trick-or-treaters we get some might argue that the spooky yard we create is not worth the several initial hours of extraction from the basement and set-up and wiring for light and spooky sounds, followed by several more hours over the days leading up to Halloween night spent tinkering and fine-tuning (and in the case of this year filing a police report for a theft of one of the ornaments). Lastly there are the hours on the Big Day spent getting all the electronics ready, carving the pumpkins, and also in the case of this year, subbing in 10 pounds of dry ice for the way-pat-its-prime fog machine that finally crapped out.

The trick is: I don’t do all that for the 70 or so kids who come tromping up the front steps seeking candy. I do it for the inner child in me and my love of my favorite night of the year.

But because I’m a firm believer in Halloween being over when it’s over, come the morning of November 1, I waste little time dismantling the entire thing back into the basement and returning our yard to normalcy as if nothing had happened… leaving only the above photograph (click it for the bigger picture) as proof, and these that I uploaded to Flickr.

 

fordHaving to take our 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid (with a whoppingly low 12,600 miles on the odometer) into the dealership for service this week, I’d been meaning to write about the odd temporary malfunction that prompted the visit and what was determined (more like “best guessed”) to be its strange cause — essentially a street-level variation on the principle as to why you’re not supposed to use your cellphone during flight.

So we were coming back from our Eastern Sierra vacation two Saturdays ago, southbound on the 14 Freeway in the HOV lane in Santa Clarita a few miles from the 5, when I went to accelerate into the lane to the right to get out from in front of a tailgater and encountered no response. I pressed on the pedal a little more and more until it was all the way to the floorboard, but nothing. All systems were operating: the engine was running, the A/C was blowing, but when I’d give the vehicle gas it wouldn’t respond. Noticing a “What the hell does that mean!?” wrench icon light was now illuminated on the dash, I let Susan know we had a problem and began carefully transitioning to the far outside lane in case everything suddenly quit. But since we were on a good downhill portion of the freeway we were able to continue with the flow of traffic. It was when we started to go up a slight incline and the car quickly its momentum that I knew we had to get off the freeway.

Exiting at Sand Canyon with the vehicle idling uncharacteristically high but the accelerator now a bit more responsive at low speeds, I crawled us into a service station and stopped. After a few moments of the engine still revving in park I decided to turn it off and let it rest for a spell. Starting it back up, she revved high again for about 10-20 interminable seconds before the electric motor kicked in and all ran silently. The wrench icon on the dash was now no longer lighted. Hmmmm.

Susan took Ranger for a leg-stretch down Soledad Canyon while I popped the hood just to make sure nothing looked wrong/broken/disconnected. And in fact other than making the surprise WTF discovery of  accumulations of old-ish looking rat poop in the wells where the front suspension/shocks bolt to the vehicle — proof that our garage rats had taken to nesting/resting there (perhaps moreso during the colder months) — everything else looked fine.

Not confident about getting back on the freeway, the decision was to plot a surface-street course home via “Gladys” (that’s what I call the GPS), cross our fingers and see if we can get there. At worst if the car quits, at least it’s in a safer, slower environment where we can pull over, call AAA, and get towed.

The good news is that it worked and we arrived home without further incident (and in the process I was happy to discover the long unknown street route between the San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita (you know, in case I ever want to bike between the two places). The bad news is that we knew we had to get this curious incident examined.

So fast forward to this last Wednesday when I take the Ford to Sunrise Ford in North Hollywood, where I explained the above to the service manager, and in response he was curious of either my wife or myself have iPhones. I told him we both do, that my wifes iPhone5 is paired with the car via bluetooth and that at one extended point about 120 miles before the incident she was also using her iPad to surf the internet. He explained somewhat sheepishly that there’s apparently a conflict between the Apple devices and Ford Hybrids that can produce interference resulting in similar situations.

Seriously?

He explained that he’s personally seen cases involving the city of Burbank’s hybrids fail to start as a result of their operators packing iPhones. He added that Ford’s aware of the problem but so far there’s been no solution.

Huh.

In my looooong history with a variety of motorized vehicles, this was my first time hearing a powertrain problem caused by a possible “programming glitch.”

Brave new world.

Of course, he took the vehicle and put it through a panel of diagnostic tests, wherein he said he failed to recreate the loss of acceleration. The best he could do was recommend a series of software upgrades that may or may not eliminate future incidents and of course was not covered by any warranty. Oh, and by the way, I also needed a new A/C filter. Total estimate: $180. Sigh… sold.

I asked: Does the new software include a “pre-flight” warning to turn off all Apple devices prior to departure?

He chuckled.

I didn’t. And now basically all we can do is cross our fingers and hope it doesn’t happen again. That’s tolerable for short city trips. But you can bet during our next longer drive there’ll be some pins and needles in the driver’s seat I’ll be sitting on throughout the journey. NOT the way I like to roll.

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